The former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang formally announced his run as New York City mayor on Thursday morning, promising to rebuild a city that has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The formal announcement came after Yang released his first campaign video, directed by the film director and producer Darren Aronofsky, on Wednesday night. The video showed Yang, sporting a mask that read “Forward New York”, going around the city talking to and elbow-bumping residents.
“The fears for our future that caused me to run for president have accelerated since this pandemic started,” Yang told a small crowd of supporters in Manhattan on Thursday morning. “We need to make New York City the Covid comeback city, but also the anti-poverty city.”
Yang is entering a crowded field of about a dozen mayoral candidates that includes current and former city officials, a member of Barack Obama’s White House cabinet and an ex-Wall Street executive. The bulk of the action in the race will be around the Democratic primary, which is set to take place on 22 June before the general election in November.
Before his presidential campaign, Yang, who has not held office before, had a low profile as the founder of Venture for America, a not-for-profit group that aimed to help create jobs in cities hurt by the Great Recession. The launch of his internet-friendly presidential campaign helped him gain something of a cult following, with supporters nicknaming themselves the “Yang Gang”.
On Thursday, Yang dived into the specifics of his platform, at the top of which is a plan to implement universal basic income – what was the hallmark of his presidential campaign before it ended in February of last year. Yang promised to institute “the largest basic income program in the history of the country”.
“Two years ago, no one would have fathomed Congress would ever send tens of millions of Americans around the country money with no strings attached,” Yang said, referring to the stimulus checks that were included in Congress’s two coronavirus relief bills.
Though he has not yet publicly outlined what the program would look like, sources have said the plan could entail 500,000 of the city’s residents receiving between $2,000 and $5,000 and will cost an estimated $1bn a year, according to Gothamist.
Yang said he also aims to fix the city’s “mass transmit mess”, saying that he would push for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses – which are currently under state-level control – and promised to have a fully electric bus system by 2030.
“As mayor, I will get around the city by subway, bus or bike because that’s how most New Yorkers get around,” Yang said, a subtle dig at the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who has notoriously taken a black car around the city instead of using public transportation.
De Blasio’s popularity has significantly declined during his two terms, after winning on a progressive agenda promising economic and social change in 2013.
The new mayor faces long-existing issues of inequality, particularly around housing and policing, that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and new ones Covid-19 created.
After shutdown orders and travel restrictions decimated the number of tourists and commuters coming into the city, New York now faces an unemployment rate that is almost double the national rate and a potential $13bn budget shortfall. The pandemic has shuttered thousands of small businesses in the city.
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